04/04/2013 Leave a comment
Organising a conference, workshop, training course or large meeting takes time and effort. In the run-up to such events the focus of planners/organisers can become fixed on the schedule and agenda, and on the time slots allotted to each activity. Questions like “will it all work?”, “what happens if we overrun?” and “will the attendees like the format?” are top of mind and likely to remain so until after the event.
In his book Open Space Technology – A User’s Guide, Harrison Owen relays his experience of organising an international conference for 250 people. The event took him a full year of labour and though it was agreed by one and all that the event had been outstanding, it was also concluded that “the truly useful part had been the coffee breaks”!
We know that people like to talk and communicate and when so doing are creating or building relationships and sharing knowledge and experiences. Many of us will have witnessed the challenge of bringing a coffee break ‘to order’ when an organiser/facilitator asks attendees at an event to return to the ‘task’ or their seats to listen to the next speaker. As the noise levels die down and conversations shudder to a halt, the energy that was in the room can appear to evaporate.
In his book, Harrison Owen questions whether it is possible to combine the level “of synergy and excitement present in a good coffee break” with the “substantive activity and results characteristic of a good meeting”; and answers this question by describing an easily-repeatable method/strategy for organising events/meetings – an approach he calls Open Space.
So the next time you are about to organise an event/meeting, make yourself a coffee, remember Harrison Owen’s experience, and carefully consider the approach you will use.
Photo ‘coffee beans’ from Amanda28192′s Photostream on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amanda28192/